One of the finest novels of this century.

ONLY YESTERDAY

Never before available in English, a masterpiece of the picaresque by the Nobel laureate who is arguably the greatest novelist in modern Hebrew.

Fifty-five years after this epic tale’s initial publication, Harshav provides an eloquent translation, successfully capturing Agnon’s carefully nuanced and bitter humor. A nonentity, a schlemiel named Isaac Kumer, arrives in Palestine as one of the dreamy-eyed pioneers of the Second Aliyah, the wave of Jewish immigrants who, impelled by Zionist rhetoric, came to the barren precincts of the Holy Land late in the first decade of the 20th century. Isaac, like his fellows, wants to work the land, to walk behind a plow making a desert blossom, but the hapless, feckless young Galician ends up as an itinerant sign painter instead. Over the course of the novel he drifts between women, ideologies, and influences, a sort of filial figure "adopted'' by an entire range of Zionists, would-be socialists, and rabbis Orthodox and un-, not to mention the extraordinary Sonya, who introduces him to love and loss. Then Kumer, a holy fool of sorts, engages in a single act of childish horseplay, painting the words crazy dog on the side of a mongrel stray, that sets in motion the forces of his own destruction and simultaneously gives the work a daring, unpredictable second narrative focus. Agnon tells the story in a wildly shifting kaleidoscope of plotlines, syntaxes, tenses, and voices, with scathing satirical barbs that spare almost no one, including the author himself, leaping from third person to first-person plural to include his entire generation in Isaac's failings and foibles. Harshav's special achievement: she conveys brilliantly all of Agnon's impetuous leaps, poetic digressions, and wry satire (an achievement all the more admirable because she matches it in her translation of Amos Oz's essays on Agnon, p. 362).

One of the finest novels of this century.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-691-00972-4

Page Count: 652

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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